Computers may be at the heart of every business, but that doesn't necessarily make breaking into the business of computer programming a cakewalk. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in computer programming are expected to see below-average growth from 2012 to 2022 -- meaning the job market is going to be pretty tight for people breaking into the field. Your best bet, then, is to obtain the best education and experience you can.
The first stop along your career path should be to obtain education in the field. For many jobs, you'll need a bachelor's degree in computer science or another computer-related field. However, some employers may only require an associate's degree. Since programming languages change all the time, you might need to brush up on your skills every few years by taking supplemental or continuing education classes. If you've been out of school for awhile and are just getting around to applying for your first programming job, this could be an essential step for you to get yourself back in the game. The BLS recommends signing up for additional coursework in specific types of coding you're interested in pursuing, such as healthcare or aviation, for example.
Experience through Internships
Like many professional jobs, there may be a few stopping-off points between college and the work world. To make yourself more attractive to employers, apply for an internship while you are still in school. Your college's placement office is a good place to start, though you may also find internships at local IT firms or businesses that need additional hands with computer-related tasks over the summer.
Other Work Experience
Unfortunately, not all of the people applying for entry-level computer programming jobs are going to actually be entry-level. Some of them may have experience working part-time in IT for a large company or serving in a volunteer IT role at a non-profit organization. To give yourself an edge when you go to apply for jobs, get as much experience as you can -- paid or unpaid. While doing actual programming gigs is ideal, it also doesn't hurt to gain experience as a jack-of-all-trades IT person for a small company, according to a column on IT World. This role might include anything from SEO and web design to tech support. Another idea: contribute some code to an existing OpenSource project, which will help you demonstrate your experience and flex your coding muscles, notes programmer Dan Kegel on his website.
Applying for the Job
You might have all the experience and training you think you need to land any entry-level job, but when it comes down to it, you'll need to make sure the employer knows how valuable you can be when you show up at an interview. Expect employers to do an online search for you ahead of the interview. Being a member of a programming forum where you can share bits of code you wrote, or having your own website, are just two ways to catch the attention of potential employers who search for you online. If you get asked in for an interview, review the job description carefully and try to anticipate what types of coding problems the employer might have. Ahead of the interview, practice writing some sample code, or even bring in a sample for the employer to see. If you can't manage to write the most basic of code when you're in the interview, you're not likely to get the job.